On the Eve of the Debates, the Long Knives Come Out for Joe Biden

On the Eve of the Debates, the Long Knives Come Out for Joe Biden
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As the Democratic contenders warm up for the second round of debates, the other candidates’ knives are out for Joe Biden — with the mainstream media helping keep those edges sharp.

This morning the New York Times published a hit piece by Katie Glueck and Jonathan Martin, headlined “Why Joe Biden’s Age Worries Some Democratic Allies and Voters.” Reporting month-old news (that’s how you know it’s a hit piece) on Biden’s previous debate performance, the authors “revealed significant unease” about Biden’s ability to carry the torch against President Donald Trump next year. While there were plenty of people willing to speak badly of Biden without attribution, the only big-name Dem willing to say something negative on the record was consultant Mike Lux. His support for Biden goes all the way back to Biden’s original presidential run in 1988 — I was a college freshman at the time; I’m 50 now — but now Dix says of Biden’s performance: “It felt like he was a step slow, [but] if Joe comes back strong in the next few debates, I think it’ll be fine.”

That’s a big If, considering how badly he did last month. More importantly, the other candidates all smell blood in the water after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) drew so much of it in the first round. In June, Biden only had to fend off one serious attacker — and failed. Wednesday night the knives will come from every direction.

Over at POLITICO, Natasha Korecki writes that “even the former veep’s supporters wonder whether he can exercise the discipline necessary to execute a debate plan Wednesday.” She quotes former Obama hand David Axelrod arguing, “the big question he has to resolve is if he’s up to this thing, if he’s vigorous and if he’s engaged.” Korecki adds, “Seldom has a candidate so well-equipped for a debate projected so much uncertainty.”

And then goes on:

Part of the nervousness is rooted in the flatness of his first debate. Biden understood the stakes, was aware that he’d be a target and had the assistance of a top-notch team of debate-preppers. He even had Michael Sheehan, the best-known speech coach in the party, in his corner.

Still, Biden walked straight into Kamala Harris’ ambush, flailed awkwardly as he attempted to defend his record on busing and civil rights and looked anything but a front-runner.

An anonymous Dem consultant said, “It’s not like he’s willfully defiant of it. He just kind of is impulsive, in the moment. I think he thinks he’s grasped onto something glib or clever, and it turns out it’s not a good way to deliver.” That anonymous Dem could have saved an awful lot of words if he’d just called Biden the “Gaffe-master.”

Business Insider took today to remind readers that Biden’s “I’m not Trump” is the same one Hillary Clinton used in 2016, and we all know (and are grateful for) how well that worked out for her.

The thing is, everybody knows Trump and his foibles, and we have for a very long time — and then we elected him president anyway. Biden and all his foibles have been in the spotlight for just as long — but the only races he’s ever won were in tiny Delaware. He’s now on his third attempt in over 30 years to win the White House. Democratic primary voters rejected him soundly in 1988, and even more forcefully 20 years later. The trend line, or what there is of it, isn’t Biden’s friend.

The news isn’t all bad for Slow Joe. Biden picked up some nice endorsements over the weekend, from former Denver mayor and Obama admin SecTrans Federico Peña. And he got a couple of big names in Florida, with nods from Bill Nelson and Bob Graham. While that’s all well and good, endorsements aren’t good for much more than bragging rights — it isn’t like Peña is going to get up on stage with Biden on Wednesday night and help deflect attacks from Harris and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Last week I reported to you that Biden promised to get tougher in this week’s debates. Biden said at a fundraiser in Detroit, “I’m not going to be as polite this time,” referring to that spanking he got on race from Harris in the previous debate.

But according to those Democratic insiders and consultants, it isn’t Biden’s manners that concern them. Instead, it’s his ability to think on his feet when he needs to, stick to the script when he ought to do that, and to truly prepare himself to play for the biggest stakes in the world.

Still, there’s one question left unasked. Biden polls well nationally in large part because people find him likable. For people with hazy memories of him as veep, “mostly harmless” is probably a pretty neat summary of their impression of Biden — especially compared to his far-more-radical primary opponents. So the unasked question is: Can Biden keep his likability factor under these new conditions?

Stay tuned to find out, and check in here on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for complete Drunkblog coverage of both debates.

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